B5 CHRISTMAS - Birth of Jesus
St. Luke 2.vv.1-18
~ In those days a decree went out from emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger". And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!".
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us". So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. ~
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comesAn air of quietness, stillness and mystery pervades this night, and modern man with all his noise and restlessness can recapture the wonder of this night. The shepherds said, "Let us now go even to Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass". Let us go too in imagination. What shall we see?
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated
The bird of dawning singeth all night long
And then they say no spirit can walk abroad;
The nights are wholesome then, no planets strike
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallowed and so gracious is the time.
There may be distress and hatred around but in the field of the shepherd we can recapture peace and mystery. In Bethlehem the lights shine out all the night on Christmas Eve, and the mainly Christian population welcome in the pilgrims. The house of a friend has 100 rooms they say : "My tent is yours". In his first coming, Jesus came in the Incarnation to find a home in the hearts of mankind. "Prepare we in our hearts a home where such a mighty guest may come".
"Great little one whose all embracing birth lifts earth to heaven stoops heaven to earth". If we enter the great Basilica of the Nativity we are struck by the ornateness of its interior. What a contrast with the bareness and poverty of the original stable. If, however, we wish to see the star on the pavement in the place where by tradition Christ was born, we are obliged to stoop, a salutary reminder that God stooped so low for us. We stoop a little, but God stoops so low in the Incarnation.
We are reminded that God of his initiative comes to us. He searches us out because he cares for us and loves us. God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
God touches our hearts with tenderness, so that by his grace we become at least a little more patient and loving at Christmas time, more concerned about the welfare of others. Let us not put away this self with the Christmas fairy lights. Let us take to heart the words of the carol, "O hush your noise, ye men of strife and hear the angels sing Glory to God in the highest; peace on earth, goodwill to men." Of course the angels had their priorities right, for peace and goodwill follow from ascribing glory to God.
Peace is not an absence of strife but a creative quality, something we co-operate with God in achieving, human tensions balanced and resolved in love. Goodwill is not a sloppy inertia, but a positive, living, active goodness, arising from sacrificial love like his who comes to us in bread and wine.